BRUSSELS - Conservatives raced toward victory in some of Europe's largest economies yesterday as initial results and exit polls showed voters punishing left-leaning parties in European parliament elections in France, Germany and elsewhere.

Some right-leaning parties said the results vindicated their reluctance to spend more on company bailouts and fiscal stimulus amid the global economic crisis.

First projections by the European Union showed center-right parties would have the most seats - between 263 and 273 - in the 736-member parliament. Center-left parties were expected to get between 155 to 165 seats.

Right-leaning governments were ahead of the opposition in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium, while conservative opposition parties were leading in Britain and Spain.

Britain elected its first extreme-right politician to the European Parliament in results announced yesterday, a development mainstream lawmakers blamed on the recession and a collapse of trust in major political parties.

The British National Party won a seat in northern England's Yorkshire and the Humber district - taking one of six seats in Europe's Parliament awarded in the region.

Britain is electing 72 European lawmakers and the far-right BNP, which does not accept nonwhites as members, was expected to win more seats when additional results were announced.

Greece was the exception, where the governing conservatives were headed for defeat in the wake of corruption scandals and economic woes.

Germany's Social Democrats headed to their worst showing in a nationwide election since World War II.

Four months before Germany holds its own national election, the outcome boosted conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel's hopes of ending the tense left-right "grand coalition" that has led the European Union's most populous nation since 2005.

France's Interior Ministry said partial results showed the governing conservatives in the lead, with the Socialists in a distant second and the Europe Ecologie environmentalist party a close third. *